Commission re-opens controversial advanced biofuel list in transport

The issue has raises eyebrows considering that in the past, some advanced biofuels proposals were controversial. [Shutterstock/StanislauV]

The European Commission has launched a stakeholder consultation to expand the list of the so-called advanced or second-generation biofuels of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), EURACTIV.com has learned.

RED II has been adopted but needs to be transposed into national legislation of the EU27 by July 2021 before it takes effect. It aims, among other things, to decarbonise the EU transport sector by 2030, also with the use of advanced biofuels that are part of ANNEX IX of the legislation.

Sources told EURACTIV that the European Commission has a legal mandate to review the list of advanced biofuels (ANNEX IX) regularly, but emphasised that “the Commission is only empowered to add feedstock, but not to remove feedstock from Annex IX”.

They added that the stakeholder consultation was launched in the context of a study aimed at preparing the evidence base for the review, foreseen for June 2021.

“It does not represent a formal part of the process,” the sources explained.

However, the issue has raised eyebrows as some previous advanced biofuels proposals were controversial.

In 2018, environmentalists suggested that some crop co-products, such as sugar molasses, were not sustainable to be eligible to receive subsidies and be counted towards the EU’s 2030 objective on renewables.

“We have always had concerns about Annex IX. And we didn’t keep molasses off it for nothing,” Green MEP Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV.

Eickhout added that although it was still early, he was urging the Commission not to rush to add anything to the list.

“Especially with the Green Deal and the circular economy much more central now,” he said, adding that many of these products could be put to a better use than as biofuels.

In 2018, the European Parliament blocked molasses from the list and now a part of the biofuel industry fears that some heavily lobby in Brussels to bring to the list unstainable biofuels through the back door.

According to sources consulted by EURACTIV, RED II foresees that Annex IX can be amended via delegated acts, which are prepared and adopted by the Commission, after consulting expert groups composed of representatives from the member states.

Once the Commission has adopted a delegated act, the European Parliament and the EU Council generally have two months to formulate any objections. If there are none, the delegated act enters into force.

Business uncertainty

Several EU documents have emphasised the need for business certainty and investment confidence, however, the reality is slightly different.

The biofuel industry has been complaining for a long time now that the constantly changing EU legislation in the sector has dealt a severe blow to the industry.

Critics suggest that building a biofuels plant means 3-5 years of heavy investment before any revenues and unless there is an at least 10-year horizon, the investment is less and less likely.

“It’s not sure what the outcome will be. But we see a risk that this evaluation, although enshrined in legislation, will trigger investors’ uncertainty,” Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of the European renewable ethanol association (ePURE), told EURACTIV.

Desplechin added that this process should in no way “distract” member states from delivering their 2020 targets under RED I and to transpose RED II into national legislation by July 2021

“This includes the sub-target for advanced biofuels from Annex IX- Part A existing list(s),” he said.

“To preserve investment decisions, the existing sub-target and cap associated to Annex IX-A and B feedstock under RED II must be met based on the existing lists,” he said, adding that multiple counting of several renewable energy sources is counterproductive for climate change mitigation and only perpetuates fossil fuel dependence.

“It incentivises fraudulent practices and should be eliminated,” Desplechin insisted.

Double-counting means, for instance, that if a renewable energy source consumption is 2%, it will be counted as 4% of the total energy used in transport.

This approach raises concerns about the ultimate objective to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, in the sense that the “virtual” consumption does not take into account the real energy needs of transport that have to be covered.

“The evaluation and possible inclusion of new feedstocks in Annex IX should not result in incentivising poor performance through the artificial creation of waste or residues. Clear definitions should apply for feedstocks and processes, including the possibility to measure and control during the production process that waste and residues have been minimised,” Desplechin warned.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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